The Challenge of Recruiting Employees for an Out-of-the-Way Agency

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BART CLEVELAND: It’s been an interesting year recruiting new people for our agency. We’ve grown from 14 to 30+ people so we’ve been on a hiring binge. It wasn’t easy but we’ve managed to put together a great team, gathering people from many larger markets. My biggest obstacle in convincing creative people our agency would be a great step to a successful career was not size, or our client list, or our track record, it was location. A couple of people I tried to recruit said they sincerely believe we’re going to succeed at becoming a nationally recognized agency, but they could not be a part of it because, well, we’re in Albuquerque. It’s too remote, too small, too far from home. I can’t help but feel they may be rationalizing a subconscious fear of self. Most people want a “sure” thing when they’re gambling with their career, so they follow the leader. It’s less risky to join an agency where it has already happened, especially if it resides in a city with other choices should things go awry. Where’s the glory in that?

My recruitment efforts made me curious about how other small agencies in remote places have been trying to recruit talent that normally would only work in larger markets. One agency I discovered doing something a bit unorthodox is Young & Laramore in Indianapolis. On the surface the heartland doesn’t seem to be an interesting place to live, so Y&L decided to go beyond describing Indianapolis’ hip factor to potential employees; they decided to make Indy even hipper. The result is; Y&L’s own take of where they live and The Short, Short Film Festival. I like Y&L’s thinking. They’re going beyond making themselves into a great agency. They’ve attacked the location enemy head on and they’re having fun with the task.

The most powerful recruitment tool is the work. Nothing defeats the isolated location obstacle more effectively. Agencies like Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy, Vitro Robertson, and the late Pagano Schenck and Kay were all in places well off the beaten path yet they topped the lists of dream work places of many who yearn to become stars in our business. Track the backgrounds of many our creative aces and you’ll see little out-of-the-way agencies were their nurseries. David Baldwin, Kara Goodrich, and David Lubars all did time at a great little agency in Providence, Rhode Island; Leonard Monahan. I know they’d all agree it was a springboard for them to do the great things they have since accomplished.

Another irony of being off the beaten path is that cities like Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Providence, etc., are less homogenous than larger markets. They have quirky personalities that can contribute to the freedom to create. I’ve never lived in a quirkier town than ABQ and I really love it. It has given me a great deal of calm and confidence to create the best work of my career.
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